An X-Ceptional Year of Sport

 
 

X-Men and X-Women reach new heights

A total of 14 varsity teams from a wide array of sport competed in the AUS and proudly donned the white & blue this school year. It was a year filled with highs (Rugby national championship) and lows (winless X-Women Basketball team) but enthralling nonetheless. Here is a brief rundown on each team’s season.

Soccer: After finishing fourth at the end of the regular season, the X-Women had a valiant run in the AUS postseason, falling in agonizing fashion in the final 1-0 to Cape Breton. The semifinal was a nail biter, as the team prevailed in extra time after a dramatic penalty kick goal at the death. Two players, striker Kelsey Ellis and midfielder Mercy Miles were honoured with second-team All Canadian spots at the end of the season.

For the men, it was another difficult ending to the season. For the second straight year, rival UNB Reds dispatched the X-Men in the semifinals. This time, it was 2-1 in extra time. AUS all-star and last season’s U Sports Player of The Year Dan Hayfield had a penalty kick to tie it in the extra frame, only for it to be turned aside. In brighter news, Hayfield and defender Josh Read were named to the All Canadian Second Team, while Ayoub Al Arabi was named to the All-Rookie team. Captain Liam Elbourne was bestowed the prestigious honour of being named a Rhodes Scholar. He was the number one ranked student in the Business Administration program with an average of 94.25%! The Scholarship enables him to attend the hallowed Oxford University in England.

Football: A victory in the AUS Loney Bowl was the highlight of the year, buoyed by Kaion Julien Grant, a potential top ten pick in the CFL draft which is happening on May 2. Fourth year Jordan Socholotiuk was the only back in U Sports to rush for 1000 yards. The season ended with a 63- 0 loss in the National Semifinal to the eventual champions Laval Rouge et Or.

X-Women Rugby: Running out of superlatives to describe this team, as it was another dominating year. The team wrapped up its sixth U Sports National Championship, winning against the Guelph Gryphons 41-24. Prop Joanna Alphonso was the catalyst for the team, as she was honoured with Female Athlete of the Year at StFX’s Athletic Banquet this past weekend. They also won their 20th AUS championship, when they defeated vaunted rivals Acadia handily by a score of 31-7.

Cross-Country: In the first year of Eric Gillis’s tenure as head coach of the Cross-Country program, both teams finished 12th at the National Championship in Kingston, Ontario. Rachel MacDougall was the first of the X-Women to cross the line, 55th overall.

The highlight of the year on the women’s side was the first place showing at the Moncton Invitational in October. They had six of the top 11 places. They also came second in the AUS championships in another fantastic team performance with four athletes in the top 10.

The men took home the AUS banner, with Angus Rawling winning his second straight gold medal. Alex Nueffer won bronze and Paul Maclellan was hot on his heels, finishing fourth. Rawling was also honoured with AUS male cross-country athlete of the year. The team also had a podium sweep at the Moncton Invitational with Rawling, Nueffer and Maclellan finishing one-two-three respectively.

Basketball: It was a year of intrigue for both basketball teams, as the men finished 7-13 on the year, and was able to claim the last playoff spot on the final day of the regular season. However, they were dispatched by Cape Breton in the AUS quarterfinals by a score of 89-66. After the year, it was reported that former X-Men player Tyrell Vernon will be taking over the head coach position in two years from Steve Konchalski, ending his mammoth tenure at the program.

On the women’s side, it was a disappointing first year for Head Coach Lee Anna Osei, as the team went 0-20. She was controversially suspended for the tail-end of the season after a report came out that showed bruising on a player’s arms after a ‘disciplinary measure’ during practice. She will resume head coach duties next year and will be helped by Vernon, who will be acting as an associate coach for the next two years on both basketball teams.

Track and Field: The teams had 11 athletes compete at nationals in Winnipeg. Prior to that, the women finished second at the AUS championships and the men placed third.

Throughout the season, a plethora of school records was also broken: Fifth-year Tim Brennan set a new 600m record with a time of 1:20.05. Angus Rawling followed up his successful cross-country season with a record in the 3000m of 8.03.34. This broke his own record that he set last season. Kirishnia Cooper took the record of triple jump with 13.14m. Relay teams in the 4x200 and 400 also set new records, and those teams featured Brennan, Adrian Kinney, Eric Sutton and Brad Barclay.

For the women, Jane Hergett took the 600m record at 1.33.96. The 4x800m relay team of Zoe Johnston, Paige Chisholm, Aidan MacDonald and Hana Marmura ran a time of 9.29.31 to set a new record.

Hockey: After a great regular season, the X-Women’s season came to an emotional end in the AUS finals, as they lost the final game of the best of three series 2-1 to the St. Thomas Tommies. Star Defender Lindsey Donovan was honoured with a selection on the All Canadian U Sports First Team. Gearing up for next season the team also announced the additions of two assistant coaches and locals to Antigonish: Trevor MacIssac and Bryan Smith.

It was a rollercoaster of epic proportions for the men’s team. In the final month of the regular season, a massive brawl-- provoked by a player on Acadia -- dominated the headlines. 

The team had to deal with suspensions and tough injuries heading into the posteasosn. Luckily, they got hot at the right time and were able to come away with a bronze medal at the U Sports Championship, dispatching the Saskatchewan Huskies 5-1. 

 

Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

 
 

Welcome to “Dorkapalooza!”

Over the first weekend of March, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC) in Boston, Massachusetts. SSAC brings out all the best sport analytic companies, along with students and a plethora of esteemed individuals within the sports industry. A total of 3500 attended and it included 69 panels, six workshops and a live podcast  studio.

The first day kicked off with a panel on soccer analytics. Specifically, the speakers touched on the drastic differences between the American and European models of soccer. FC Barcelona Football School Technical Director Isaac Gutierrez mentioned that currently “American soccer is developed like the other sports in the USA, like football and basketball. This is not the right way to develop players, as Europeans schools teach systems from a young age.”

My personal favorite panel followed the soccer one. This one was on unicorn hunting. No, not the mythical being, but a mythlike basketball player. The term was coined after 7’3 forward Kristaps Porzingis was drafted. He provides an intriguing blend of three-point shooting and shot blocking ability, something virtually impossible with his size in prior eras. The panelists included former Celtic Paul Pierce, ESPN writer Zach Lowe, assistant Celtics GM Mike Zarren and Golden State Warriors Bob Myers. Myers coined a unicorn as “the highest level of rarity for a basketball player. Someone who stretches the limit of reality.” Shaquille O’Neal was brought up, in the pondering of if he was in today’s era of basketball, would he be as successful? The overwhelming answer was yes. Myers told a funny story about one day taking a client out for dinner the night of a game in which that player would be guarding Shaq. The player ordered an alcoholic drink, much to the surprise of Myers. “Haven’t you got a game tonight?” He asked. The player responded “I am up against Shaq man” as he shook his head. His utter brutality was another kind of unicorn, as most agreed that they would never see another player like him again.

Photo: Instagram @rachel_nichols

Photo: Instagram @rachel_nichols

Meek Mill along with 76ers Co-Owner and founder of Fanatics Michael Rubin sat down with ESPN host Rachel Nichols for a passionate conversation about prison reform. Mill spoke about his time within the criminal justice system and the need for its reformation. Rubin struck up an unlikely friendship with the rapper and was completely baffled by the treatment of individuals like Mill within the criminal system. They co-founded the REFORM Alliance, aimed at changing laws and policies. Rubin spoke candidly about his privilege, and utter disbelief on the criminal justice system now. Mill has been in the system for approximately half of his life, and he still has five more years to go for probation. The main way for this reform to take place was probation and simplifying the rules for it across all states. Right now, states like Pennsylvania have no limit to the amount of probation years that can be given. This can be crippling to people, especially those with limited financial means.

Later on in the day, the technical director for FIFA provided a case study on the utilization of compact defending, and its success within the World Cup that occurred last year. It seemed to show a new trend in soccer, where every team bunched up their defense, leaving a large amount of open space wide, but greatly reducing the ability for offensive players to cut inside, where there would be a higher percentage of goals potentially scored. It was an intriguing study, and one that was made possible with the dearth of statistics available from FIFA.

I then attended a discussion on the new team LAFC, and how its unique brand identity enabled them to create a phenomenal product in only its first year in the MLS.

I also was fascinated by the plethora of research papers that were on hand, including one that created a mathematical equation to value NBA draft picks and the protections that they come with.

Photo: Bowen Assman

Photo: Bowen Assman

The most popular panel of the weekend was a one-on-one with Commissioner Adam Silver and The Ringer founder Bill Simmons. The main talking points that was taken from the chat was the realization from Silver about the age of anxiety that all players live in. Despite the million dollars and all that it comes with, lies a very real mental health problem, mainly entrenched by mobile phones and social media. It was important that Silver addressed this, and he too said he goes to sleep most nights anxious and fretting about microscopic decisions that had happened throughout his day.

Day two was just as jam packed (shout out to 5-hour energy and the free coffee for keeping me awake!).

Malcolm Gladwell (author of 10 000 hours) sat down for a chat with David Epstein to discuss Epstein’s new book, called Range. Range focuses on the overvaluation of specialization, and the need for more generalists within society, as they have a higher chance of becoming more successful. Specifically, they talked about the Tiger Woods/Roger Federer dichotomy. Both are arguably the greatest players in their sport, but they each were trained drastically different at a young age. Woods began swinging a club at one and was primed to become a golf player before he could even speak. Federer, on the other hand, played soccer, badminton, basketball. It was only when he was in his mid-teens when he began specializing. Federer cited the reason for his great hand-eye coordination had to do with the myriad sports he participated in growing up. After Gladwell posited the question of why  Woods’ story is more enticing to people, Epstein believed that it was because of our obsession with precocity. For example, parents love to boast about their children’s early achievements. Having one read or be potty trained by a certain age brings about pride from the parents. However, these are closed skills, which would be attained regardless in your upbringing. Instead, Epstein believes in letting your child play as many sports as possible, so to have refined skills in various activities.

In the final panel of the weekend, author of Moneyball Michael Lewis spoke with Washington State head football coach Mike Leach. Leach has been called the most interesting man in football. It was a hilarious hour listening to Leach riff on his obsession with pirates, to literally bringing on a student from the stands to kick field goals for his team.

Photo: Bowen Assman

Photo: Bowen Assman

Many of the panels are available to be watched on the YouTube channel 42 Analytics.

Personally, Lowe gave some advice on distinguishing between podcasting and writing. “Writing is better, just because podcasting takes more infrastructure,” Lowe said. He also mentioned the importance to have an established presence before podcasting, “so people can trust you and know your voice.”

A main theme surrounding all panels had to do with the utilization of data. Since we are in a golden technology age, information is at our fingertips 24/7. As a result, we need to get the ‘why’ from the data and understand its importance. If one can do that, then as panelist and former MLB player Chris Capuano said, “with analytics, an average player can become so much better.”

I would recommend anyone who is interested in sports, analytics, numbers, or even just panels, to sign up for next years event. You get a large discount if you are a student, and it comes with perks, such as a integrated job board that provides employers with information on all delegates who attend. It is my hope that I will return soon to SSAC—not as a student, but as a professional!

 

StFX Swim Team

 
 

Making waves in 2019

For the first time in their history, the StFX Swim Team has fundraised to hire a dedicated, professional coach. I sat down with Craig MacFarlane, swim team coach, and Tyler Thorne, Swim Team president, to discuss their newly found partnership, and their aspirations for the future of the team.

***

EDK: Thanks so much for taking some time out of your day to join me for this interview. Why don’t we start with your name, and a little background on your own personal journey?

CMF: Sounds great. My name is Craig MacFarlane, I swam when I was a youngster many years ago – swam the 1500 averaging about 18 minutes, although we’re talking a long time ago. 

Started with the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association. I did that by about 4 years and knew the grind. For instance, waking up on a Quebec morning at 4:30am and biking to the metro underground and catching the bus for practice at 5:30am. 

It really helped me develop an appetite for better things. Faster. Further. Higher.

EDK: That all sounds incredible. How did you manage to find your way to Antigonish?

CMF: I guess I’m blessed. I’m honestly elated and honoured to be here, to be part of StFX. It’s a good question – they say the long way there is the short way home. I suppose I returned to Canada – I was in the United States for a while – I transitioned into nursing it didn’t click, so I was certified in swimming. Fortunately, I met Tyler (Swim Team president) through recruitment. We had a good starting and it really worked quite well.

EDK: You arrived here quite recently, two days prior to the start of term. Are you excited for what’s ahead? 

CMF: Absolutely. I graduated from St. Mary’s in Halifax, so I had a feeling for the Nova Scotian people. I suppose you can’t generalize people, but those that I’ve met have been nice people. They’re courteous, they’re pleasant, they’re generous. Just wonderful.

EDK: I absolutely agree. Moving forward with the swim team, have you been able to gauge their abilities as a team, and could you speak to where you’d like to take the team in the future?

CMF: Well, keep in mind I’ve only had two weeks with them. The first week was really an evaluation, with the second week being my pushing them to see what buttons I could poke. I’m very pleased with the attitudes, very pleased with the efforts. Just a very positive group in general.

EDK: They seem very eager to learn.

CMF: It’s probably an attribute of StFX, of the young people here.

TT: We’re a very athletic school – it seems like we’re quite innately athletic.

EDK: I’d agree. And looking forwards, perhaps both of you could collaborate on this answer, but when you look forwards a few years from now, where do you hope to see the team?

TT: Sure. My whole goal with this presidency was to get the team essentially pushed in a direction where they were both a) more competitive and b) at a level where we could transition to become a varsity team. That’s been the goal of every president on this team since its inception. 

Normally we would hire education students that would coach for one or two years. Not to say they weren’t capable, but the idea is if we want to have a varsity team, we need to build it into one beforehand. When looking at a team, they would have a competent, consistent and stable coach, someone who would be able to dedicate more time to the team as opposed to being part time as a student. 

Now that Craig is here, I’m hoping that we can transform the next group of incoming swimmers and make them stick. Once they’re in there, we want to be as competitive as possible and training for meets as soon as possible.

An issue that we’re always had is no one is ever sure where they’re going, or what the level of competition was. Now with this new atmosphere, we should be building a base of competitive swimmers to the point where we can make a decent case to advocate for varsity.

EDK: I suppose the assumption is once you get these people who have been swimming at a competitive level in high school, you can lock them in at the beginning of the school year, keep the skills up and ensure you have continuity over four to six years.

TT: That’s the big one. Getting those people from high school on the team and keeping them there.

EDK: Craig would you agree? In terms of where you’d like to see the trajectory of this team in the future?

CMF: Yes. I think varsity is achievable. As a matter of fact, I was looking at some other universities, I won’t mention who, but some that are competing in U Sports, and there’s one that competes in U Sports that swims less than us. I’ll be very frank with you – the quality of the swimmers is better than I expected. Especially on some of the more difficult strokes like butterfly. Obviously, it needs improving, there’s always opportunities for improvement, but I find that promising.

EDK: For those who will read this article and aren’t aware of the divisional standards in swimming, could you elaborate on the difference between club and varsity, as well as masters versus open.

TT: The difference between varsity and club is largely competition based; by that I mean are you able to compete with each other? Varsity teams will compete at a varsity level, whereas club teams cannot. As well, varsity teams receive more funding. That means they can afford more equipment, more pool time, etc. The club teams on campus, you can see they have that more social aspect to them. They do compete, but a lot of the time there’s not a big commitment, no contracts, you’re not getting recruited. So that’s the big divide.

With masters versus open – masters is 18+, and open  is self-explanatory, open to everyone. The reason we swim masters is we want swimmers competing against people their own age. 

When you get into open, you’re going to get into an area where there are really, really good swimmers who are a lot younger than you. It can be discouraging, especially for those who aren’t extremely competitive swimmers. Now, however, that we’re a lot more competitive, I think it’s definitely time to look at going back into open. I think we can definitely compete at that level. That’s a better route, a more competitive route, which puts us on a better trajectory to varsity.

EDK: Do you see any issue with the transition from club to varsity, in terms of retention of current members on the team? For instance, if you were to transition towards becoming a more competitive, varsity-aimed team, would you end up having to cut those who were less competitive on the team?

CMF: The term cut, I really don’t like. We have enough pool space right now that we don’t have to cut anybody. I would hope that we will be developing confidence to go to friendlies and eventually competitions, because we are moving to the next level. For the purpose of building confidence, rather than use the word cut, I would rather poke people and let them know that if they want to compete, they really have to go out and train. 

And for that matter, there are some people who probably don’t need to grind too much more and could attend competitions right. Before any cuts, I want to enforce the idea of confidence building and preparation, allowing us to then go outside of our pool.

EDK: I do suppose it would be a gradual transition, rather than a hammer drop. Besides, you’d need competitors to be at a level of varsity competition before being given the name.

CMF: Yes. The only other dimension on that is that the more social swimmer will progress less rapidly than the competitive swimmer. So, there is more of a variability in the training and coaching, which adds a bit of a drag.

TT: I think we’ll definitely see a slow transition, rather than any sort of rapid name switch. That just won’t happen. By the time we’re ready to do it, we’ll have very competitive swimmers who will be keen to demonstrate their skills.

EDK: That’s great. I’ve touched everything I wanted to cover, would either of you like to add anything?

TT: I’ll just say I think the team is in a really exciting place right now. If there are any swimmers on campus who are looking to keep up their training, now is a really exciting time to get in on it, because we are a lot more established than we have been in the past. This is the most competitive direction we’ve been going in since the inception of the team. So, overall I’m just really excited for their future.

EDK: Phenomenal. Thank you for joining me, both of you. It looks like the swim team has some exciting years ahead.

 

Unconquered

 

Fourth Invictus Games graces Sydney, Australia with inspiring performances by all

Most people today will be able to go through their entire life without facing the horrors and struggles of combat. They will not face the physical and mental challenges that proceed after serving their country. For so long, veterans, servicemen and women have suffered from life-altering injuries and mental illnesses without anywhere to turn. Oftentimes, they find it difficult to find the motivation to move forward and beyond their disabilities acquired during or after battle. 

Is there a way to break the perception that life stops after disability? Is there a way to promote rehabilitation for the wounded, injured, and ill service members that fought for our countries? Is there a means to celebrate the importance of sport and physical activity for everyone, including those who are suffering from war related injuries?

The Invictus Games, held from October 20-27, in Sydney, Australia managed to do all these things. The fourth Invictus games to take place, the event in Sydney garnered over 500 competitors from 18 countries to compete in 11 diverse sports. These sports include archery, track and field, indoor rowing, powerlifting, road cycling, sailing, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and a driving challenge. 

The name Invictus is Latin for the word “unconquered.” It was decided by Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex to launch this event in the United Kingdom after noticing the importance and strong impact athletics can have on recovery and rehabilitation, especially for servicemen and women. Since he established the Invictus games foundation and held the first games in 2014, there have been three more held in countries around the world. This includes Orlando, USA in 2016, Toronto, CAN in 2017, and Sydney, AUS in 2018. 

Among the athlete competing included 40 Canadians, representing our country with pride and courage. The team comprises of 18 members of the armed forces and 22 veterans, all who have experienced a physical or mental health injury during their time serving Canada. Their participation is made possible thanks to many contributors, including Veterans Affairs Canada, the Province of Ontario and the Invictus Games Toronto 2017 organizing committee as part of the Canadian Armed Forces’ Soldier On program. Since beginning 11 years ago, Soldier On has been committed to supporting Canadian Veterans and has contributed $6 million directly to ill and injured service members in support of their recoveries. 

invictusgames2018.org

invictusgames2018.org

A full list of Team Canada’s athletes was released in late July of 2018. Most of the team were notified in January that they were chosen. They all attended two training camps in Halifax, NS during the year. With regards to the training being put in, Halifax Member of Parliament, Andy Fillmore was full of pride. 

“It is great to see the camaraderie of the Team Canada athletes here in Halifax as they prepare for the Sydney Invictus Games. Each person’s transition from Canadian Armed Forces member to Veteran is a unique experience and the Invictus Games have been an incredibly positive force for many Veterans and their families during this journey.” Fillmore explained, “Our Government is proud to be part of the Invictus Spirit and I congratulate all Team Canada athletes, they deserve this and will have an entire country cheering them on as they head down under!”

Andy could not have been any more correct. Team Canada had loads of support coming from their country and other countries as well. For example, Team Canada and Team Poland worked together as one to become “Team Unconquered,” a joint wheelchair rugby team competing at the Sydney Invictus games. 

Competitors didn’t mind combining athletes from different countries because that isn’t what the games are about. Canadian competitor Casey Wall said it best when talking about his wheelchair rugby team, “The name says it itself – ‘unconquered’ – and that is what Invictus is all about. It’s getting together, it doesn’t matter what your nationality is, or where you’re from. Whatever it is, it’s getting us all back onto the same playing field.”

The importance of the Invictus games undermines all the importance of the country you’re from or the team you’re on. Everyone participating is each fighting their own unique personal battles, but at the same time they are fighting together to show a positive message about the recovery, resiliency, and tenacity they all possess. 

 
 

Why are there so few out LGBTQ+ Athletes? 

 
 

Hyper Heterosexism culture has stymied any potential movement for individuals to come out publicly. 

As 2018 begins, LGBTQ+ rights have never been so prominent. The clear majority of individuals are supportive and push for pro LGBTQ+ rights, with more and more individuals coming out without fear of being discriminated against. The same can not be said for professional male athletes. 

However, there was a wave of athletes that publicly came out between 2013 and 2014. This was the hopeful beginning of an avalanche of individuals to come out. 

Football Player Michael Sam, who was a star Defensive End for the Missouri Tigers in university, as well as the 2013 recipient for Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Sam came out publicly prior to his senior season, in 2013. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2014 National Football League Draft, yet has never played a snap in the NFL. 

National Basketball Association veteran big man Jason Collins was the first openly gay player to play in one of the four major professional leagues. He came out publicly at the end of the 2013-14 NBA season. Collins was drafted 18th overall in 2001, and played a total of 14 NBA seasons, retiring in 2014. As he stated in his first-person piece for Sports Illustrated “if I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I am raising my hand.” 

Robbie Rogers, whom is a former Major League Soccer player, came out as publicly gay in 2013. He also played professionally in England. 

After Jason Collins public announcement, Rogers believed that “a movement was coming.” 

However, since these athletes’ bravery, there have been no more athletes to come out publicly while playing. Three different sports, all with a cornerstone individual, yet unfortunately for Rogers, no movement has come. 

It has been approximated that one in ten people are gay. It is a seemingly mythological sentiment, because of a lack of proper research methods. Yet it is certain that there are athletes now who live in the closet whilst playing. It isn’t the case that LGBTQ+ identities are rising in prevalence, but rather a stymied culture within sports that inhibit one. 

With regards to homophobia, Wade Davis, a gay former NFL player, believes it isn’t unique within sports 

“I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in the sports world, but I think it is reinforced in the sports world, but you learn you can’t be out much sooner. When I realized I was gay in the 10th grade, I knew immediately what I was feeling was not OK, and that didn’t come from me playing little league football. It came from television. It came from everywhere.” It is not the homophobia that impacts people so much, but rather the blatant hyper heterosexism within locker rooms. Rampant dialogue concerning women and sex is paramount, and for gay athletes, it is something that they can not relate to. 

It seems that in female professional sport, there are more individuals whom are publicly out. Most notably the Women’s National Basketball Association. One can say that being heterosexual in the WNBA leads one to be made fun of, a complete role reversal of male athletics. The culture emanating from the WNBA is a parallel to the NBA, with women mirroring the men, whether that be through on court playing, or off court attitudes. However, it is certain that female athletic teams are more open to LGBTQ+ athletes. Brittney Griner and Megan Rapinoe are just some examples of these decorated gay athletes. 

Crucially, one’s sexual orientation should by no means play any role in an individual’s skill to play a sport. What is done in one’s private life is exactly that, private. Yet it is disheartening to hear that there has not been more movement within locker rooms to change the culture. These locker rooms are stuck in a 1960’s dialogue while the rest of society has grossly advanced LGBTQ+ rights.